Father Donald Senior, CP

June 18: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dt 8:2-3, 14-16; Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58

As a boy growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, I found that one of the most exciting Sundays of the year was the Feast of Corpus Christi. On that day, large crowds of Catholics would descend on Churchill Downs, the famed track where only a few days before thoroughbreds raced for the roses in the Kentucky Derby.

But this was a different scene — men and boys from each parish would march in procession around the track, following the archbishop of Louisville who carried the monstrance with the Eucharist, accompanied by a brass band playing hymns. The stands would be filled with women and girls (this was the 1950s, folks) enthusiastically applauding their parish as its representatives passed the finish line.

I understand that the origin of this wondrous display originated at a time in Louisville when Catholics were considered a somewhat suspicious minority. The Corpus Christi procession shouted out, “We are here and we are the Body of Christ!” In a somewhat different mode, the great theologian and bishop of the 4th century, St. Augustine, proclaimed the same basic truth in one of his sermons: “If you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: ‘You are the body of Christ, and its members [1 Cor. 12:27]. … When you hear the body of Christ, you answer, Amen. Be a member of the body of Christ, so that your ‘Amen’ may be true!’”

In celebrating the Body of Christ we are affirming two interrelated convictions of our Christian faith, reflected in the Scripture readings for this beautiful feast. First, we remember God’s nourishing love for his people. As the first reading from Deuteronomy recalls, God fed Israel with manna during their desert trek to freedom. When the people were weary and discouraged, God miraculously refreshed them by sending sweet-tasting manna as a kind of bounteous dew-fall that the people could harvest each morning.

The biblical author urges the people not to forget the loving kindness of the God who “guided you through the vast and terrible desert … and fed you in the desert with manna.” (The Bible also reminds us how human the people were. Later they tire of eating manna and complain to Moses for a change in diet.)

God’s desire to care for his people and nourish them finds its ultimate expression in the person of Jesus, God’s gift of love to the world. The Gospel passage from John’s Bread of Life discourse presents Jesus’ loving presence, his “body and blood,” as true “food.” In John’s eucharistic language, the bread that Jesus gives “is my flesh for the life of the world” — a reference to the death of Jesus, the ultimate sign of God’s redeeming love.

The reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians brings us to the second dimension of this feast — the astounding fact that we, as the community of Jesus’ disciples, are, in fact, his “body.” “We, though many, are one body for we all partake of the one loaf.” Later in this same letter, Paul affirms over and over: “We are the body of Christ.”

This is the point that St. Augustine was making and, to an extent, so did the Catholic procession at Churchill Downs when I was growing up. Nourished by God’s love, absolutely privileged to participate in the Eucharist, we are to be Christ’s “body” in this world. As Augustine observed when we are about to receive Communion and the priest or minister declares, “The Body of Christ” our “Amen” not only affirms that Christ is present in the Eucharist we are about to consume, but we also assent to the incredible realization that we are the body of Christ.

Through the witness of his disciples, bound together in faith and love, committed to witness to the Gospel by our words and actions, the presence of Jesus is brought to our world. We, as frail as we may be, are called to bring life-giving nourishment to a world that struggles “through the vast and terrible desert.”



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